I realise that i have been a really bad blogger…..I sort of dont even feel like i can give myself that title anymore as i rarely blog, i rarely think about it and it has gotten to the point where i am sitting here having struggled for an hour to remember my password to access my admin page.
The reason for that is mostly called ‘being too busy’ with life to actually sit down and write about it. Also it has been difficult to put into words my experiences of moving to the other side of the world. It hasn’t been easy and there have been some hard times and verbalising those sort of things is tough. Treading water takes all your energy after all.
Also, as a bit of a side note, i am now the mother of a teenager and im realistic about how much he would want his life plastered across the internet (as a savvy techie himself) and so it is with new eyes in more than one way that i now view my public writing…
So things have changed…..
We have changed!!
Things have changed in a way that i had always dreamed they would. For years and years this goal had been our dream. Travelling, doing life somewhere else, having a more global view of the world, giving our children a chance to experience a life outside of where they were born. Not the tourist experience, getting under the skin of a country experience, digging in for the duration.
We hadn’t always had our heart set on Australia necessarily, it just offered the opportunity and so we decided to go for it. It was after a lot of thought, going backwards and forwards and talking ourselves in and out of the idea we summized that we had to at least try. That to live with the success or failure of having had a go was far better than to live with the regret of having never tried.
Leaving behind family, friends and a city we have called home for a long time now was a lot harder than we ever imagined. It really does crush in on you and cloud every sensible decision you are trying to make. The sadness for ourselves was one thing but the guilt was and is, for me, very hard to deal with, especially when you have good irish catholic roots thrown in.
In a way, i was pleased we had paid for the flights, resigned from our jobs and made other commitments that meant we had to go otherwise i think my guilty feelings would have got the better of me and we would have bottled it. That saying ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ was never more real to us than in those last few weeks leading up to going. I am so grateful for some amazing people who were so relentlessly supportive and behind us. It meant and means so much and we genuinely couldnt have done it without them.
Flying with kids is never easy but flying 10,000 miles with five kids, 22 bits of luggage and an extra couple of duffle bags of heavy and mixed emotions was always going to a bit of a choker. For a good few months after arriving here I couldn’t talk about leaving, it was too hard and i sometimes had that bewildering ‘out of body’ feeling that some other mad woman must have done it. But now looking back at that day. I can actually laugh and sometimes not just a giggle, a great big belly laugh till you cry kind of laugh. Like, what the heck where we thinking….. …
Like labour, time has softened the edges and we can look at it with eyes wide..’did we really do that?’
Did my husband really schlep through immigration with hard drives in his coat pockets (one of two he was wearing on his back) so that we wouldnt be over our weight for hold luggage. Did we stress over and clean every last thing we were sending and taking to Sydney for fear of their tough immigration laws only for me to sail through australian immigration with, unbeknown to me, five lovely, brown, shiny conkers in my handbag! Did my daughter really travel 10,000 miles with a giant soft carrot and broccoli tied to her backpack because she refused to leave them behind!
We flew from Manchester last November, leaving our house looking like a squat. Our house contents left for australia about 5 weeks before us and so we borrowed mattresses, duvets and a few bits of kitchen stuff from our amazing, fabulous friends and family. The kids thought it was hilarious ‘camping out’ in our house. I wasn’t quite so sure. We had spent most of the last night before packing and re-packing already full to the brim bags to try and get more in whilst simulatenously making it weigh less!. Staring at vast piles of stuff and trying to justify what we could realistically leave behind. We had two taxis to the airport, made up of two people carriers driven by two incredibly brave and wonderful friends. One car had all the bags and one had all the people!
We knew we were probably going to be over our allowance at the airport and at the end of the day we thought we would just have to pay it but after some negotiation and a bit of heavenly intervention the check in desk lady deemed that our guitar case, which was largely full of other stuff and a token small guitar, could go on as a musical instrument and not count in our total allowance and also our laptop bag (weight: about the same as a small child) could be omitted also as it was a small electronic device bag and apparently they don’t count?!
Passing through the security scanners we thought, looking like the travelling circus that we were we wouldnt look too suspicious other than in a ‘are they really all yours?’ type of way. But alas, they seemed keen to see all the things we had packed. Their lovely curiousity about our luggage meant that we had to frantically re-pack all our hand luggage and try to convince some already flagging kids to carry their own bags to the gate. We half walked, half ran through the maze that is departures scooping up in a minesweeper style stray welly boots and other assorted random items that had been loosely stuffed into bags. Even though we checked in almost at three hours before our flight we were still one of the last bunches of people to board. ’ah we have been waiting for you!’ exclaimed one steward. Had he heard about the frazzled, crazy parents travelling with half a tonne of luggage and a gaggle of kids from his check in friends? hmmmm?
I have never felt such mixed emotions when taking off, when you are going on holiday there is generally excitement but i had to struggle to not sob uncontrollably. The relentless task of closing up shop in a practial aspect and saying goodbye multiple times left me washed up emotionally and it all came rushing to the surface once we had taken off.
The plane entertainment system did an admirable job on the first flight, largely the kids just settled down to their 8 hours of TV and video games with non stop snacks and drinks without concern! I have said many times to people since we moved that the plane journeys were okay. The second leg was harder as it was night time for us and also it was the longer flight. But the transfer was something else. Tired, hungry, disorientated and needing the toilet and water. We had a little under 2.5hrs to change flights, which sounds like a lot right? ha!
We tried in vain to get our youngest to sit in one of the airline supplied strollers but she refused outright and just to show us how much energy she had she ran head first, the wrong way down a travellator sending sandled, skirt wearing arabs jumping to the side to avoid her like skittles. I offered them a weak smile of apology whilst simultaneously wishing for a tranquilisier dart for my daughter.
The Arabs are seemingly very paranoid about the risk of explosives in liquid for as well as the usual security gates prior to the departures lounge where we all dutifully emptied out our water bottles. There was then another check at the gate itself where they took water or fluids bought in departures away?! Which then left us sat in the gate, unable to get out without going back through the check again, without any water! It was a long wait till we were boarded and then my first question to the steward was ‘water please!’
The kids managed to sleep in a bizarre arrangement of leaning into each other and laying top to toe in the tiny space we had. I was just so relieved that they slept that i didnt try too hard myself to get any sleep. Preferring to lull in and out of semi-unconciousness whilst listening to old episodes of Friends and the occasional turbulence announcement when i tried to inch the kids into their seat belts without actually waking them up.
We arrived late into sydney, something we had anticipated happening as the plane left Abu Dhabi late. We had a real problem we realised when we landed that the company we booked our car through was going to close while we were still the wrong side of immigration. We tried several times to phone them but our UK mobile phones, that we had switched to PAYG before we left did not have enough credit to make phone calls to Australia via a British network. In desperation we sent a text to a friend of ours back in the UK who had given us a number of someone they knew in Sydney and we asked them to contact them and ask them to call the car company to tell them we were on our way! For what seemed like ages we had no idea how we were going to get to actually leave the arrivals area. But then, out of the darkness, came the shuttle bus and the car company had stayed open for an extra hour to allow us to pick up our car. Never felt more grateful for the incredible communication systems that allow us to stay in touch so swiftly!
While OH was sorting out the paperwork for the car, i lugged all the bags and shoved them in the back of our van. Hot and sweaty we all piled into the van and set off, as apparently all british do, to Manly. Driving to Manly from the airport you pass through the city and pass over the harbour bridge where we pointed out the opera house to the children. Having seen it many times since then that first time feels very surreal, like a dream. It was like being on a simulator ride, like driving through a movie set. Were we really here?
Our apartment in Manly (or unit as the australians call them) was at Queenscliff ( an area that sits to one side of Manly beach and, as it seems with most of the area, is fairly well built up with apartment blocks and houses teetering on the edges of cliffs trying to build as close as possible to get the enviable ocean view. Arriving at the apartments well past 8pm we discovered that one of the down sides of lots of apartments is lots of cars and the parking was non-existant. The info on the apartment we had led us to believe that it had a garage but we struggled to find it, navigating our large, tall and ‘large excess’ 9 seater van through narrow and low areas under an apartment block in the dark was quite a challenge! We eventually found it only to realise that there was no way that the van was going to fit. So the only option was to park further away and carry the bags up to the apartment – all 22 of them – a job that fell to my OH!
The owner of the apartment had put some basic supplies and we had a swift dinner of pasta and sauce before a welcome shower. Luggage strewn all over the small living room, hunting for pyjamas and toothbrushes scattered through numerous bits of hand luggage. I sat and looked at the picture of a lighthouse that was hanging on the wall, an image that had become very important to us in the months before we had left home and burst into tears. The relief that we had arrived, unscathed (largely), all together, the only casualties so far being a winter coat. Here we were a huge family in a small apartment in a strange land down under.
Sleep came pretty quickly…listening to the soft sound of the waves crashing onto the cliffs below us.
We had done it!